KRIS Meeke won Thursday night’s opening stage at Wales Rally GB as heavy rain made conditions treacherous on the asphalt and gravel roads at Oulton Park motor racing circuit.
PHOTO: Kris Meeke splashes to an early lead on Wales Rally GB (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
The Ulsterman, who was fastest in the morning’s shakedown, finished the 3.58km special stage with a 2.1sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over Belgium’s Thierry Neuville, at the wheel of a Hyundai i20.
“That was tricky. It was dark, slippery and tricky and in those conditions on a race circuit it was like ice. There are no points for today, so let’s try to have a good weekend,” Meeke said.
After a late afternoon start ceremony in Liverpool, the curtain-raiser for this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship almost provided a fairytale story for Petter Solberg.
The 2003 world champion and four-time GB winner, competing in his last rally before retirement, topped the leaderboard for much of the evening in his support category Volkswagen Polo R5 before being overhauled by Meeke and Neuville.
The 44-year-old Norwegian finished 3.3sec off the lead in third, 0.5sec clear of reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. Andreas Mikkelsen, driving an i20, and Esapekka Lappi, in another C3, completed the top six.
It was a nightmare start for championship leader Ott Tänak who was down in 13th after yielding almost 9sec to teammate Meeke.
“The engine stopped. I had no lights, they were pointing to the top of the trees and I completely missed the corner,” the Estonian explained.
Top 10 after Thursday:
1 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2m47.4s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.1s
3 Petter Solberg/Phil Mills (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) +3.3s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +3.8s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4.1s
6 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +4.7s
7 Matt Edwards/Mark Glennerster (Hyundai i20 R5) +5.4s
8 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5.7s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Škoda Fabia R5 Evo) +5.8s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciek Szczepaniak (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +6.1s